Posts Tagged ‘Senate Parliamentarian’

Those sneaky Dems and their “stealth accomplishments”.

Last Tuesday, President Obama signed into law the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (H.R. 3590) — aka “Obamacare”. Today, Obama signed the reconciliation bill that was supposed to implement the “fixes” to Obamacare, as required by the House. But, they decided to attach the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act bill as a rider. Together with the original “fixes” bill, they are to be known forevermore as the Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010 (H.R. 4872). Huh?

Obama speaks about student loan reform

The Obamassiah tells how he brings salvation to the student loan industry (March 29, 2010 - Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images North America)

There is much that could be said about this, but I’ll leave most of it to others. I just have two questions I’d like to ask.

My first question to our esteemed President and his Congressional comrades is, “What the heck does taking over student loans have to do with healthcare reform?” I don’t even remember this being mentioned until a few days ago. So, what gives? Well, not waiting for an answer, I did a little research and came up with an answer in two parts.

1) The reconciliation maneuver can only be used once per budget year, and Democrats probably figured this was their best (only?) chance to get the “student loan reform bill” passed. (Even some centrist Democrats were opposed.)

2) The Senate parliamentarian informed Dem leaders that, in order to pass budgetary muster, “both the Senate health and finance committees would need to produce $1 billion in deficit savings each over the next 10 years”. The reconciliation bill as it was could not do this; piggybacking the education bill with it allowed the whole package to meet requirements. Pretty sneaky, sis! (Sorry for the old TV commercial reference.)

As a bonus, President Obama gets a two-fer added to his Progressive resume.

I know, I know. This is just typical Congressional behavior. But, it just irks me that they had the nerve to attach another bill onto the Obamacare travesty legislation, let alone one that represents the federal government taking over yet another part of our economy. And taking business away from U.S. financial institutions, too. (Of course, the Administration loves to give this industry a hard time, deserving or not.)

Which brings me to my second question for Obama et al. “Where are you gonna get the money to lend to the students?” The federal government won’t just be subsidizing & guaranteeing student loans anymore. Now it has to loan the entire amounts. After spending so much money already and putting the nation in more debt than it’s ever been in (and getting worse), where will the federal government — specifically, the Dept. of Education — get the funds? My guess is a combination of taxes, fines, shuffling government monies around on paper, maybe borrowing from banks(?), etc. In other words, more pain for the taxpayer.

And don’t get me started on the government’s history with running student loan programs….

Rumor has it that this bill also provides “$2.55 billion to support historically black colleges and universities and minority-serving institutions”. Hmmm. If those groups are being singled out, that sounds like reverse discrimination to me. But, if I asked about that, I’d probably be called a racist. So, I won’t ask.

P.S.  If you read the U.S. News article (which is overwhelmingly pro the student loan part of the Act), be sure to check out the reader comments titled “My Two Copper Coins…” (for some additional points from the other side) and “A little history on student loans” (for a first-hand account of why the govt should not be in this business).

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Of course, this has nothing to do with reconciling differences between Democrats and Republicans, or even between radicals & moderates within the former group. This “reconciliation” is a controversial procedural move that the Democrats in Congress want to use to pass Obamacare, despite their losing the 60-vote Senate supermajority.

Since its introduction in 1974, the reconciliation process has rarely been used, and only for its original purpose of sidestepping impasses on budgetary resolutions. Ostensibly for reducing deficits or increasing surpluses, its wording only refers to “changes” in revenue and spending amounts. Although intended for only limited application and for a single fiscal year, it has since been expanded in scope to pass sweeping omnibus bills. For example, Congress used reconciliation to pass Clinton’s 1993 budget. The President also wanted them to use the same tactic to enact “HillaryCare”, but Sen. Byrd, author of 1985’s Byrd Rule, prevailed in his arguments that healthcare was out-of-bounds. It wasn’t until 1999 that reconciliation was used by the Senate to enact something that would actually have a negative impact on the federal fiscal position (i.e., the Taxpayer Refund and Relief Act). It was used again to pass the Marriage Tax Relief Reconciliation Act of 2000, with similar results. [Note: It might be interesting to note that reconciliation was used 3 times under George W. Bush, each time to pass major tax cuts, which would lapse after 10 years in adherence with Byrd Rule guidelines.]

U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Capitol Building where U.S. Congress meets

By its very nature, reconciliation favors the majority party, because it limits debate and amendment and avoids filibuster. Rather than the usual 60 votes needed to pass a bill, the procedure allows the Senate Parliamentarian (i.e., currently Alan Frumin, who has already shown himself to be partisan toward Democrats) to modify the bill such that it only requires a simple majority (in the Senate) of 51 votes. If there is a 50/50 tie, the Vice President votes the tiebreaker; and we all know which way Biden leans. The bill then goes to the President for his sign-off. Important point: It doesn’t matter which order bills are passed by Congress, but it does matter what order the President signs them into law.

Now we have the Democrats in the majority and trying again to pass another socialistic, debt-growing healthcare plan via reconciliation. Of course, in addition to the above, the procedure does involve going through several committees and meeting certain requirements from the 1974 Budget Act and the 1985 “Byrd Rule”, which restricts non-budgetary use of the reconciliation maneuver. Also, the minority party in the Senate still has a chance to force a separate roll call vote on every line of the bill. But, Sen. Reid et al. think they can somehow get around the “Byrd Rule” and any other obstacles. Despite resistance from the fiscally conservative “Blue Dogs”, Pelosi’s Democrats have the majority in the House, which is why no one is talking about using reconciliation there. [UPDATE: It seems that Pelosi may not have the votes she needs, after all. Go here and here for more on this.]

With the President expected to present his new plan any day now [Note: Originally posted 2/20/2010.], House and Senate Democratic leaders are winding down weeks of negotiations over the details. (Questions: If Obama is crafting his own version of what he thinks is a “good bill”, which will then be presented to Pelosi & Reid, what exactly has the Democratic leadership been negotiating? Are they merely humoring him? How much detail will Obama get into? How closely are they expected to adhere to his bill? Is this constitutional? Just wondering….)

While even congressional Democrats can’t be sure what will end up in the final bill, reconciliation efforts will probably go something like this (as per the NCPA):

1) House Democrats pass several “fixes” for the Senate bill.

2) Senate Democrats endorse the “fixes” and send them to the President (who does nothing with them, yet).

3) House Democrats bypass the need for subsequent Senate vote by passing the Senate bill as-is and sending it to the President.

4) The President first signs the Senate bill, then the “fixes”.

So, what can those of us who oppose Obamacare do? We need to convince Senate moderates (e.g., Blanche Lincoln, D-AR), and anyone else in Congress currently on the fence about Obamacare of at least one of the following:

1) Passing Obamacare in anything like its current state is against the will of the majority of the people (as multiple surveys, demonstrations, & elections have shown), and voting for it would work against them when they are up for re-election.

2) Passing Obamacare in anything like its current state is simply unethical, because of its tremendous costs, intrusive control over people’s health/lives, unconstitutional interference with the market, etc.

3) Using the reconciliation tactic to pass anything other than budgetary resolutions is inappropriate and unethical, because it would violate its intended purpose and subsequent guidelines set in the Byrd Rule.

4) Using the reconciliation tactic to pass Obamacare in particular (given its controversial nature) seems underhanded and “dirty politics”, since it effectively cuts out Republicans and bypasses much of the normal legislative process. A topic this huge deserves full-throated, bipartisan debate.

If enough can be convinced, we can keep the yea-votes to 49 or less and defeat the “reconciliation” of Obamacare. The Democrats currently have 59 votes in the Senate, so we only need about 12 (including an additional couple to counteract the RINOs like Olympia Snowe, R-ME, and Robert Bennett, R-UT, who may go against party lines and vote for it). We CAN stop it!

If you haven’t already done so, I encourage you to join the Free Our Health Care NOW! Action Army, then call or write your Congressman. You can also donate to the NCPA here.